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France Becomes First Country to Enshrine Abortion Rights in Its Constitution

Abortions are still restricted in France after week 14 of pregnancy.

Demonstrators, holding banners, demand the inclusion of the right to abortion in the constitution gather for women's rights rally in front of a giant screen to follow the debate on the single-article draft law near Eiffel Tower in Trocadero, Paris, France, on March 4, 2024.

On Monday evening, France became the first country in the world to explicitly guarantee the right to an abortion within its constitution.

Lawmakers were summoned by President Emmanuel Macron to the Palace of Versailles, the former royal palace that is oftentimes used for the passage of monumental laws instead of the Palais Bourbon in Paris, where the National Assembly usually meets.

For an amendment to become part of the French constitution, three-fifths of lawmakers in parliament have to approve it, meaning that the measure required at least 512 votes in order to become law. With no major party in parliament opposing it, the measure received 780 votes in its favor, with just 72 voting against it.

The amendment to the constitution, which includes exclusionary language, states that “a woman has the guaranteed freedom to have recourse to an abortion.”

Abortions in France have been legal since 1975. Until recently, a person was limited to the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy to obtain an abortion without regulation. In 2022, the law was updated to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The new amendment does not expand the number of weeks that a person can obtain an abortion without restrictions, making abortion rights more restrictive than around half of U.S. states’ laws. Importantly, even with the new amendment in place, future lawmakers in France could conceivably place further restrictions on the right an abortion and still be within the bounds of the “guarantee” that has been enshrined in the country’s highest governing document.

However, the measure is still being celebrated by proponents of abortion rights in the country, who note that federal abortion protections in the U.S. were upended by the Supreme Court in 2022, and that, by explicitly enshrining the right in the national constitution, abortion is now more protected in France than in most other places throughout the world, including several states in the U.S. with abortion bans. Notably, France’s national health insurance program also covers the costs of abortion services.

According to a report from The Washington Post, a large crowd of supporters who had gathered near the Versailles Palace “erupted in celebration” as the tower lit up “with twinkling lights” when the measure officially passed. The square outside the building “immediately transformed into a massive street party,” the report added.

After the measure passed, Macron announced that the amendment wouldn’t become officially inscribed in the constitution until Friday, March 8, to coincide with International Women’s Day.

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